Shemot begins with Rashi telling us that even though Jacob and his children were each named at the end of Bereishit, God names them again here to let us know how much he loved them. Thus, the second book of the Bible, which tells the story of the birth and redemption of the People of Israel, often referred to as Exodus – we call Shemot, Names.
Within a dozen verses, the idyllic establishing paragraph makes way for the harsh reality of slavery. The new oppressor and regime are introduced by saying that they didn’t know Joseph. I wonder what it is that he didn’t know. Did he not know what Joseph had accomplished, or where he had come from? Or, perhaps, he just didn’t remember his name.
The harsh injustice of slavery requires nameless masses. It requires people who are interchangeable to do Egypt’s work eat their scraps. If they only knew our names, would they have been able to treat us the same way?
But, this is the way of the world. Those we mistreat, those we wish weren’t, and those who we fear the most – their names we ignore. They become numbers – demographic facts with which we must contend, not people who we may come to love.
Haman, in his hatred, tells Achashverosh, “There is one nation, dispersed, and scattered among the other peoples.” (Esther 3:8) From a place of derision, they become just a number, one out of one hundred and twenty-seven, completely irrelevant. However, in God’s love, the children of Jacob are unique individuals. Each with their own name, their own story, and they’re own reason to be cared for.
Crossposted to bashamayim.blogspot.com